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Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Tuesday, 24 May 2011 10:51 UK

Schama and Ferguson on Obama


President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama step off Air Force One

Barack Obama has arrived in Britain for a state visit, widely seen to be reaffirming what he and David Cameron have called the "essential" relationship between America and the United Kingdom.

Two British historians who both live and work in the US, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson, debate the true importance of this bond and how the president himself views it.

Niall Ferguson told Today's Justin Webb that, transatlantic cliches aside, "it was no secret" that Obama was "the least anglophile president for more than a generation" and had shifted his attention to the east.

"The British think they're in a special relationship, but the Americans have a quite a few special relationships and I don't think that we're the most special."

Simon Schama agreed that there were "other parts of the world that are higher on his agenda", but argued that Europe as a whole was too "touchy" about Obama.

"I don't quite know what he's got to do to suggest that he's really as warm and cuddly as his predecessors toward the UK."

However, the two historians went head to head on the subject of Obama's wider foreign policy.

While Simon Schama insisted the president was setting out to support democratic movements across the Middle East, Niall Ferguson argued that he had been "mugged by reality" and was now pursuing a surprisingly neo-conservative position.

"Actually, the differences between these two presidents [Obama and Bush] are remarkably small on foreign policy, which is deeply ironic when you consider how many Europeans thought the Messiah had arrived to redeem America after the wickedness of the Bush years."

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